Rules for ein/eine/einen etc

Can anyone explain/point me to a good explanation of the use of ein/eine/einen, kein/keine/keinen etc? I've learnt the Duo sentences, get them all right, but I still don't understand the rules, want to get it before I move on. (And I know this has been asked/answered repeatedly, but somehow, I'm not getting it yet.)

April 19, 2018



First of all, have you understand the three grammatical genders? If not, you won't be able to progress on that point or many others. In German, nouns are gendered, whether or not they represent a gendered object (person, animal, thing, concept…). They can be masculine, neuter or feminin: no shortcuts here, you have to brute-force remember which is which.

Then you have the cases, or a change of forms of some words (articles, adjectives, pronouns, and nouns) according to their fonction in the sentence. Nominative for isolated words '(typically in the dictionnary, or as titles of books, newspaper article, etc), for the subject of the sentence, or the predicate of the subject; accusative for the direct object of the verb, after accusative only verbs or prepositions, or for a complement indicating movement (real or symbolic); dative for indirect object, after dative only verbs or prepositions, or for complement indicating a position; and genitive, for complement of the noun, or after a few prepositions.

Still with me? Now it should be clear. The article is the primary marker of the gender and case. So it changes the most.
Ein ist for masculine and neuter nominative singular, and neuter accusative singular. Eine is for feminine accusative and nominative singular. Einen is masculine accusative singular. Einem is masculine dative singular. Einer ist feminine singular dative, eines masculine or neuter singular genitive.

Obviously, there are no plural forms of "ein" (acts like "a" in English, in plural, you use no article at all). But there are plural forms of kein. In singular, this acts just like ein; in plural (for all genders), you have keine for nominative and accusative, keinen for dative, and keiner for dative (these are the same ending as the definite article "der, die, das").

Hope this explaination makes things easier. I recommend you search and copy (and study to memorize) one of the multiple article declension tables sitting on the Internet.

I wish you luck. Once you have had your aha moment, it becomes kind of fun, I promise :) Don't hesitate to ask more questions if needed.

April 19, 2018

Thank you, Vabiele! That is hugely helpful to see it laid out so clearly. I've drawn out my own chart from your explanation, in the hopes writing and processing it helps, and now, I will follow your advice to look up a table. Once I understand the theory I'm happy to grind to learn the info, it's just hard until it's clear what you should learn! You've helped immensely.

April 19, 2018

I was exactly at your place not so long ago, Alex, I'm glad I could help.

On a similar note, keep in a corner of your mind that the adjective takes the significant ending when the article doesn't. Sooner or later (rather sooner), this info could save you lots of headaches. Don't mind for now, but remember when you have to learn the declension of the adjectives. If I had been told that years ago, I could be bilingual by now (not kidding).

When you master that (articles following the definite or indefinite article, attributive adjective), you must just add an -n (or -en) ending to any dative plural noun, and an -s (or -es) ending to most masculine and neuter genitive singular. I save the exeptions to this last rule for another time.

One more time, don't mind those informations untill you need them (perhaps save them somewhere), then read them before studying the tables, and save litteral weeks of miserably trying to memorize them :)

PS: for reference, please copy-paste the onscreen comments, not the email you probably recieved of my first answer, cause I've edited a few mistakes. And don't overtrust me, I could still have let some slip, but the concept is right.

Then again, if we do have to learn the genders, I have a few tips to help if you can use them. Just ask :)

Viel glück!

April 20, 2018

Can the person who marked me down please explain what is inappropriate or offensive about my question? I'm aware it's been asked before, but I explained exactly why I was asking again, so I assume it's not that?

April 20, 2018

I wasn't the one who downvoted you but I'm pretty sure there are more than enough explanations available on the Internet so you could've just googled it instead of asking here

April 20, 2018

Ah, but... I explained that I was aware the answer was already here many times. I know that because I have read many of those threads, I have googled and read the answer repeatedly over several weeks, and I have simply made no progress. Thus, I acknowledged that the answer is out there, but, alas, I still failed to understand. I asked for extra help, on top of that which the many people before me have needed.

If the forum is not here to offer support when you use all available resources but fail anyway, then what is its purpose?

And thank you, again, Vabeile.

April 20, 2018

so you wanna say you read all the explanations and didn't understand them and you thought that if you ask here someone will provide a better explanation that you haven't seen before?

April 20, 2018

And funny enough, it did happen: not better, but differently worded, and better suited to his needs, maybe ;)

April 21, 2018

Exactly that, yes. Every explanation is different. If I ask a question on a two or three year old post, I get no reply. If I repeat the same old question again, explaining I don't undetstand the previous answers... That is key, saying you don't understand so that you do get a different answer. And I did. And I certainly don't fully understand it all, but I do now have a table of information I must learn by rote before I attempt another lesson on Duolingo. With that new knowledge, I come back, read again, read all the old posts again, and maybe more becomes clear. That way, I learn the language, not the Duolingo phrases, because, lets be honest, telling people their cow is pretty and my fish doesn't drink orange juice, it's not the most stimulating conversation!

April 21, 2018

That's exactly how learning works, to be honest: I've been stuck for years on similar problems, until one day, fiat lux :) Don't hesitate to ask again if I can make something clearer.

If I dare offer an other advice though: instead of rote learning, try everyday to decline a different noun of each gender with the different articles, then compare to the table. Multiple benefits: you get to learn or review three different nouns a day, and the declensions will become more natural. In a few weeks, you shouldn't even have to think about it so much.

April 21, 2018

Ah, that's a clever idea, yes, I'll do that. Your advice is excellent, and I'm glad of it. Thank you.

April 22, 2018

And yet I was more than happy to explain, else I wouldn't have read, let alone downvoted, if I couldn't be bothered… Sometimes, one need one particular way of being told things to understand them, and I've been on both ends often enough :)

April 20, 2018
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